'If we had it all over again, we wouldn't make the acquisition'

Isentia chief Sean Smith talks about the company's recent struggles, defends moving jobs to Manila and explains why he's optimistic about the refocused company's prospects.

Sean Smith
Sean Smith

After months of bad news—including settling a lawsuit with Meltwater, the shutdown of King Content, and staff layoffs in Australia and Singapore—media monitoring firm Isentia has announced that its core media intelligence business will be integrated under its Mediaportal platform.

"The key learning for us is that media intelligence and content marketing are two very different businesses, from the type of people, to the way you work with clients and the technology you use," Sean Smith, Isentia's chief executive, told Campaign Asia-Pacific.

The company took an A$37.8 million (US$28.9 million) write-off following the closure of King Content, which it had acquired for A$48 million (US$36.7 million) in 2015. King Content offices in Hong Kong and New York were closed, while eight staff were made redundant from Isentia's content division in Singapore. The besieged company is currently looking for a buyer to take on its King Content business in the UK.

"If we had it all over again, we wouldn't make the acquisition then," Smith conceded. "We (should) only make acquisitions that are focused on our core media-intelligence business." 

Smith insisted Isentia is not leaving King Content clients high and dry. "We are working through a plan to transition the clients to a new provider," he said. "There is a very strong plan for that. We do this in a way that we look after our clients to make sure that they receive good services during this transition period." It has been reported that the now defunct King Content still has contracts with several firms including National University of Singapore and AIA.

Smith remains optimistic on Isentia's prospects."There's been a lot of bad press about the business, but a lot of good is going to come out of this because we are simplifying," said Smith. "We've gone from a business with three product streams—media intelligence, insights and content marketing—then we are focusing back on our core, media intelligence and insights, which we've always been great at."

Isentia laid off all of its broadcast-monitoring staff in Australia and New Zealand and moved the operation to Manila. Australia's media union, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance had slammed Isentia for poor business decisions that led to around 30 layoffs in Australia.

Smith said that moving the monitoring positions offshore was an effort to centralise operations at the company's content hub in Manila rather than a cost-cutting measure alone.

"We've had the content hub in Manila for two years and looking to expand it with more new roles," he said. "It makes sense for broadcast monitoring there because of the different time zone, the type of people we can hire and (their) English language capability, which makes it an easy place for us to do business." Smith is moving to a global role for the media intelligence business from his previous ANZ portfolio.

He added that having a single platform for clients across all markets would simplify the operation since its media-intelligence operation had operated under separate platforms folllowing acquisitions in different markets. 

Smith said Isentia's key markets are now in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and China. He spoke about a "huge potential" in China, where Isentia acquired Sinofile in 2008 and opened offices in Beijing and Shanghai. "The type of clients we have in China are mainly the multinationals. There has been so much interest around the world for China, what we do is help them to understand the Chinese market across the social and traditional media," said Smith. 

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